Flyability Paragliding Wheelchair
In 1997 Flyability completed the development, design and testing of a wheelchair that will enable people with severe motor disabilities to fly paragliders. The purpose built (light alloy) paragliding wheelchair is suitable for both dual and solo flying, thus creating the opportunity for wheelchair users to train as pilots. The chair is unique in that it can be used as an everyday wheelchair, yet with the modular addition of a front wheel and a paragliding harness, the chair becomes flyable.
People with severe motor disabilities have been flying as passengers in tandem paragliders since 1992, when Jocky Sanderson developed the first dual paragliding ‘buggy’ in conjunction with the Calvert Trust (an outdoor activities centre in the Lake District for people with disabilities). Since then a large number of visitors to the Calvert Trust have been introduced to the sport. However, the limitations of the original buggy have always been apparent in that it could not be used for solo flight.
In 1996, John Crosbie (the Centre Director of the Calvert Trust and a Trustee of Flyability) was visiting the Chevron wheelchair factory to discuss a joint project with Chevron concerning ‘off road wheelchairs’. During the visit he saw the prototype of a new wheelchair designed by Vinny Ross, one of the Chevron engineering team and himself a wheelchair user. This chair has a suspension system built into the rear axle which minimises the risk of injury to off-road users. John immediately realised that, by combining the front end of the ‘off road’ chair with the rear suspension system, it would be possible to create a much improved flying undercarriage with solo potential.
The Flyability Trustees immediately approved an R&D budget for the project. John brought together the engineering knowledge and disability experience of Vinny Ross, the flying experience of Jocky Sanderson and his own knowledge of working with a wide range of disabilities in outdoor activities, and the adaptive experience of the Calvert Trust.
The resultant prototype has exceeded all expectations and offers a number of major benefits. First and foremost there are no flight safety or insurance issues because it is designed to be used in conjunction with standard flying equipment. Additionally, the chair is easy to handle from the dual pilots’ point of view and works well for solo pilots. It is not only stable but the steering mechanism is self correcting to minimise the effects of drift on landing. Last but not least, the new modular chair will not leave pilots stranded in the landing field – they can now simply wheel away. Flyability strongly recommends that quick release maillons are always used when flying with the chair.
Already the development of the chair has increased the interest of people with disabilities in taking up flying as a serious sport rather than a once only experience. The Calvert Trust, in conjunction with Jocky Sanderson’s Escape flying school in Keswick has already run student pilot course for wheelchair users (one of whom was Vinny Ross).
Jocky Sanderson says:
“Using the new chair, any paragliding school with suitably qualified instructors can now teach wheelchair users to fly under the standard BHPA rating scheme. The training sequence begins with tandem flying, giving the student the opportunity to learn the feel of the air and the charateristics of the canopy. Then, as canopy control improves, the student is able to move onto solo flying and progressing through the tasks laid down in the BHPA qualification schemes.”
Steve Varden says:
Former Flyability Chairman, Steve Varden (a hang glider pilot who has cerebral palsy), has flown dual with Jocky in the wheelchair. He said: “This is one of Flyability’s most proactive developments to date. We have looked at paragliding wheelchair designs from around the World and (having learnt from their experiences) have come up with a product that is markedly more practical and stylish. The chair is also extremely comfortable in the air and landings are incredibly soft. I believe that this chair and other recent Flyability developments have established the BHPA as world leaders within the sport in respect to making flying accessible to people with disabilities.”
The developement of the chair has had wider reaching implications for those involved in the project. Not only is Vinny now hooked on the sport but he also has potential orders for the company. To date there have been three chairs in operation. The first chair was purchased by Flyability for general use. The Calvert Trust has also purchased a chair and the third was bought by Sussex Hang Gliding & Paragliding school.
Flyability paragliding wheelchair available for loan.
The Flyability paragliding wheelchair is now available for loan to BHPA registered: schools, clubs, tandem rated pilots and student pilots with disabilities. As featured in Skywings the chair is suitable for ab-initio training, dual and solo paragliding flight. As with all equipment loans no charge is made for the loan but a simple contract is formed between Flyability and the borrower which guarantees the wellbeing of the chair as a condition of the loan.
This latest development has been received enthusiastically, with support and demand for the paragliding wheelchair being far greater than expected.
Indeed, news of the chair has spread world wide with enquiries coming from as far afield as Malaysia and the USA. To date we have had several urgent requests for loan of the chair for training and air experience use. Whenever the chair has been shown or demonstrated the response amongst BHPA members has been overwhelmingly positive.
All enquiries and bookings regarding loan of the chair should be directed to the Flyability Equipment Officer, John Crosbie, by e-mail, or by phone on Keswick +44 (0)17687 72254, fax: +44 (0)17687 73941 during office hours.
Anyone wishing to find out more about the purchase of a chair, should contact Vinny Ross at:
- 18 Summers Road
- Brunswick Business Park
- L3 4BL
- Free-phone: 0800 525 877
- Tel: +44 (0)151 707 1146
- Fax: +44 (0)151 707 035